Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9
Serenade for Winds,
István Kertész, cond;
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 4847 (64:45)
For record collectors of my generation, our introduction to the lesser-known works of Dvorák was
through the recordings of István Kertész. In my case, it was the Fifth Symphony and an album of overtures during high school. I have felt ever since that Kertész cultivates a well-nigh ideal sound for Dvorák. It is crisp and transparent, yet highly passionate and full of orchestral color. Kertész’s mid-1960s London Symphony version of the
Symphony is one of the great recordings of that score. What we have on the present CD is Kertész’s first recording of the work, from 1961. Kertész was all of 31 years old, and was facing the Vienna Philharmonic in the recording studio for the first time. Producer Ray Minshull remembers the sessions as having a lot of nervous energy, and the results are apparent in the recording. In comparison with the London performance, this earlier rendition is a little faster in places and doesn’t include the first movement’s exposition repeat, which Kertész used in London. Part of the difference between the recordings is their venues, the warm bath of Vienna’s Sofiensaal versus the comparative clarity of London’s Kingsway Hall. Most notable is that the Vienna Philharmonic of 1961 still possessed the sound quality we know from their recordings with Weingartner and Walter in the 1930s. So, Kertész’s Vienna
has a rich, grainy Central European quality that constitutes a time capsule for what the
once sounded like. It makes for memorable listening.
In the opening movement, the first entrance of the strings is jarring. The principal theme sounds full of excitement. Energy and tenderness mark this movement as it proceeds, with the coda at white heat. In the
, the English horn solo is warm and elegant. The B section features subtle colors. When the first movement’s theme arrives again, it’s explosive. The return of the
tune features gorgeous solo strings. In the Scherzo, the A section is alert and perky, while the B section seems wistful. Gentleness pervades the C section, which has a slight carnival feel. The main theme of the finale is stately yet exciting. What my high school music teacher, Nicholas Tino, referred to as “the fire engine music” is truly rollicking. Kertész maintains a steady rhythmic pulse throughout this movement. The coda features thrilling playing from the violins. This is a rare example of a recording that has the excitement of a live performance.
The Serenade for Winds really does not require a conductor. For example, there is a fine VHS cassette featuring unconducted members of the Berlin Philharmonic. But Kertész makes his presence felt by his London Symphony players in a number of positive ways. The piece opens at a quick tempo with wonderful rhythmic lift. The first movement’s second subject possesses a twinkle. The Minuetto is relaxed, with a particularly warm sonority. Its B section is frisky and teasing. In the third movement, Kertész maintains a long, soulful line with a wide dynamic range. The movement ends rather operatically. The finale has a feel of hustle and bustle, with a zesty second theme. Kertész sets a spot-on tempo for the return of the first movement’s march. The serenade ends in a coda like a Slavonic dance. This is as fine a performance of the serenade as I’ve ever heard. The sound engineering here and in the symphony is very good analog. Just don’t expect the clarity and dynamic range of recent digital. If you’re looking for digital CDs of these works, I would recommend Colin Davis and the London Symphony in the
and the Oslo Philharmonic Wind Soloists in the serenade. The present CD amply demonstrates what a memorable artist István Kertész was. I would recommend it to anyone who loves Dvorák.
FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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